Should We Decolonise University Staff?

lecture_hall_gray.jpgMicah Mackay

The past few years have brought a focus on the decolonisation of academic curriculum. In English Literature, for example, the literary canon has often faced criticism for reliance upon white, male authors. Consequently, in many universities there has been a drive to increase the representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) writers within literary study. At the University of Cambridge students recently wrote to their department arguing for greater representation of BAME writers. Similar actions across universities have meant, in recent years, that William Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy are now often joined by the likes of Bessie Head and Maya Angelou. Global and Postcolonial studies are also more prominent within the curriculum.

However, within universities, there is growing unease, not solely about the curriculum, but about BAME representation among staff. The Guardian recently published that “no black academics have worked in senior management in any British University for the last three years” citing figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. It therefore has to be asked whether universities can say they are making progress, in regards to BAME representation, if BAME voices are not being represented in the staff body itself. Should there be a focus on decolonising the staff as well as decolonising the curriculum?  

Universities strive to teach issues faced by minorities in a sensitive and constructive light. However, having these issues taught primarily by those who have not experienced them could deprive students of a greater understanding of barriers faced by minorities. It is important, therefore, that whilst teaching such topics academic acknowledge if they have no personal lived experience of said issues. They acknowledge that, although they can speculate regarding obstacles faced by these communities, they cannot fully relate to the experience of any minority individual or group.

It is necessary, therefore, that universities make a concerted effort to increase BAME representation across all departments, particularly in subjects related to BAME issues. White academics can, of course, teach BAME issues with the attention they deserve, but it cannot be a well-rounded experience for students to only hear from white individuals on issues affecting non-white groups. Greater ethnic minority representation would allow minorities to have a voice within academia and enable them to discuss their experiences or feelings towards issues such as colonialism, discrimination and the portrayal of their communities within academia. This can only be beneficial to students, giving them a variety of perspectives to appreciate. This would not just be academically valuable to students but go a long way towards encouraging greater understanding of BAME issues within universities.

We should not just maintain a focus on decolonising the texts we study. We should push for universities to re-examine their structure as a whole. It is time universities encouraged and sought greater diversity within the staff they employ. It is time students were exposed to a range of life stories, experiences and voices from people of all ethnicities, not only within the texts they read, but from those who teach them.

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